Last updated on 04/02/2021

School boy spacerMandy Betts can’t recall the number of times her son Harrison went to hospital for his asthma-like symptoms between the ages of two and four years old.

Harrison would be admitted to the hospital for breathing difficulties, then be released with a standard plan.

While it gave him some relief for a few days, the cycle would then start all over again.

“It has been quite a journey,” Mandy says.

“The standard discharge plan that was provided just wasn’t cutting it for him and he would just get sick again so quickly.

“It took me, as his parent to go looking around for other options.”

Asthma is a lifelong condition that affects more than 460,000 Australians. From a cough to wheezing, breathlessness and chest tightness, asthma presents differently for everyone.

This can make it difficult to recognise, especially for young children who aren’t yet able to fully verbalise or tell you how they are feeling.

Some symptoms can also overlap with other conditions, including allergies or in response to viruses.

How to diagnose asthma in children

Asthma Australia’s Health Projects and Partnerships Manager Brett Taylor says symptoms of asthma can vary between children and they can change rapidly as well.

“It really does vary between individuals and it varies from day to day,” he says.

“Some children will have a persistent cough; others may have no cough. Some will have a wheeze. Some kids will not have any of those symptoms, they are just quiet, and they are really struggling to breathe.”

He says often young children are treated for asthma-like symptoms without a formal diagnosis by a doctor, based on a symptom diary looking a frequency and severity of symptoms and a family history of asthma or allergies.

Spirometry testing is generally not done until children are older than five years, when they can effectively do the breath tests.

If you are concerned about your child and their breathing, always seek the assistance of a doctor.

If your child is having any breathing difficulty or you are unsure what to do, call an ambulance by dialling triple zero (000). Never ignore breathing symptoms.

How to manage asthma in children

For the Betts family, their asthma journey started when Harrison was hospitalised with a lung infection at nine months old.

After that he had a runny nose and a dry cough, was always tired and didn’t sleep well. From just under two years old, he started taking a preventer medication.

“It took some time to piece it all together with the specialists,” Mandy says.

“It has evolved over time. And as he is getting older, he has learned to articulate his symptoms.

“When he was younger it was what I could observe and what I had noticed,” she says.

“As he is getting older, he is able to help put it all together, too.”

For Harrison, asthma starts with a cough and he can’t catch his breath. Now with the support of a respiratory specialist he has check-ups and updates to his written Asthma Action Plan at least three times a year to make sure his medications and dosages are correct.

Ms Betts also says having that continuity of care through the hospital system – with the written Asthma Action Plan, a letter from his specialist and a bag ready to go – has given her confidence to manage asthma better.

How can young people manage their asthma?

As children grow into young people, they will learn more about how their asthma affects them and what triggers their asthma.

It can be helpful to track symptoms and triggers and become more aware of how their asthma presents.

One way to do this is through Asthma Australia and the University of Sydney’s Kiss MyAsthma App. This symptom diary and tracker is easy to use and creates a long-term record to show your doctor.

There is always someone you can talk to as well, either family or friends, or an Asthma Educator on 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462), the Asthma Educators can spend time discussing your child’s asthma and asthma management and help dispel myths and misconceptions regarding asthma in children.

It’s also important to remember that effective asthma management can help maintain your confidence and your sense of control over your asthma and your life, not only for adults but for children also.

Asthma Australia’s Back to School campaign

We want to halve avoidable hospital presentations for asthma by 2030.

Part of this goal means providing education and resources to parents, carers, health professional, educators, and schools to manage asthma prevention for children.

It is important to keep up your child’s asthma prevention throughout the break, and once they are back to school.

Visit our website for more information and resources about asthma in children.

Bird Healthcare and Flo are campaign partners of Asthma Australia and have not been involved in the development of this web page/content.

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